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Decision-Making in Sexual Assault Cases: Replication Research on Sexual Violence Case Attrition in the U.S.

Award Information

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2012, $1,197,686)

The attrition of sexual assault cases from the criminal justice system has been a concern to victims, practitioners, and researchers for the last forty years. A growing body of research suggests that there is still much that can be done to support victims and to assure that the role of extra-legal factors in case attrition is minimized, however, gaps remain in our knowledge of the processing of these cases. Spohn and Tellis (2012) made a significant contribution to our understanding of the factors that explain sexual violence (SV) case attrition at the policing and prosecutorial stages. Because these findings were specific to agencies in Los Angeles County, there is a need to examine case processing in other jurisdictions to understand more about factors predictive of attrition. A multi-site replication will permit consideration of individual, agency, and community characteristics; victim advocacy; and police and prosecutorial innovations. The proposed research is a replication of Spohn and Tellis's work in a diverse sample of 6-8 agencies selected using a multi-stage purposive sampling framework focused not only on urban, suburban, and rural jurisdictions but also informed by key police organizational factors, populations served, geographic proximity, and quality of prosecution and police records management systems. This research will rely on a mixed methods approach using quantitative and qualitative data to uncover and interpret patterns in the attrition of sexual assault cases. The research team will closely adhere to the methods and analytic strategies used by Spohn & Tellis and will monitor this adherence closely. The research and analytic strategy will also involve careful attention to the detection of additional factors not examined in the original study which may be significant predictors of case attrition in the new jurisdictions. This project relies on a team of experienced researchers who bring years of experience in all of the management domains necessary for this work. In addition to the principal investigators Williams, Pattavina, and Morabito and the resources of UMass Lowell we will rely on the cooperative agreement with NIJ and the assistance of the Police Executive Research Forum and the Women's Law Project. In each jurisdiction the research team will track rape and attempted rape cases and document the flow of reports through each stage; analyze detailed case records on a sample of SV cases to understand the dynamics including victim, offender, and case characteristics associated with attrition; and conduct interviews and focus groups with key personnel, victim service providers, and victims themselves. The study should contribute to the scientific understanding of sexual violence case attrition by providing a reliable replication of the Spohn & Tellis study across multiple sites. With the goal of increasing access to justice for sexual assault victims, the team will attempt to identify best practices within police departments and in cross agency collaborations between police, prosecutors, and victims assistance groups.ca/ncf

Date Created: August 30, 2012